Sport Rugby

Thursday 22 March 2018

Engine Room: Cronin call shines bright light on west

Hugh Farrelly

RELOCATION can be a tricky business. Certainly, moving from the sticks up to the big smoke of Dublin 10 years after an unhappy stint here in the mid-1990s took a bit of adjustment.

Walking past the city-centre bank that provided brief employment back in the day still elicits an involuntary shudder, as memories flood back of how a degree in international and strategic management is scant preparation for the rigours of a busy branch and 'queue management'.

Sachs Hotel, that mid-1990s bastion of late-night ardour, is no more -- although Copper Face Jacks has proved a more than adequate replacement and is a welcome home for boggers and their jersey-clad ambitions.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of the acclimatisation process was becoming used to the sight of women walking the Dublin streets in pyjama pants and UGG boots, a fashion statement that has yet to branch out into rural Ireland.

However, if the move to Dublin carries its challenges then, in rugby terms, so too does the move out west to the peculiar yet endearing environs of the Galway Sportsground.


From this angle, trying to file match reports on deadline while tired and emotional greyhound punters lean over your shoulder offering advice and spilt beer is quite an experience. However, from a playing perspective, moving to Connacht is a relocation exercise that can have huge benefits and this has been a momentous week in that regard.

It may have garnered no more than a few paragraphs in the national press, but Sean Cronin's decision to sign a contract extension with Connacht was massive for Irish rugby.

The 23-year-old hooker is going places. Possessing the bulk, skills and attitude for international rugby, he made his debut last November against Fiji and is much admired by the Ireland management team, who you would imagine had a big say in this week's decision.

Up until now, Connacht has not been seen by players as a 'sexy' place to further professional ambitions; rather as a staging post on the path to something better. And, like fellow hookers Bernard Jackman, Jerry Flannery and John Fogarty before him, Cronin was expected to do his stint out west before switching to one of the bigger provinces.

By staying put and rewarding the province that has provided Cronin with that most valuable of playing commodities -- match exposure -- the Limerickman has lain down a marker that hopefully will encourage others to follow.

"It is a move which has worked for me," said Cronin. "The most important thing for me was getting game time. That is what has really helped me improve. It is a move I would encourage other players to make."

Michael Bradley has his detractors, but the Connacht coach has constantly beaten the drum on this issue and deserves huge credit for bringing Cronin, out-half Ian Keatley and three-quarter Fionn Carr out west.

Luring young Irish players dazzled by the bright lights of Munster, Leinster and Ulster to under-resourced Connacht is a hard sell and, by necessity, Bradley has had to pad out his squad with a steady stream of journeyman professionals.

But Cronin's decision to stay, allied to the genuine possibility of Connacht gaining entry to the Heineken Cup for the first time, could turn this tap from trickle to steady flow. Cronin's decision is a seminal moment in Connacht's professional history and a worthy legacy for their long-serving coach.

"Connacht can do a lot for players who are getting frustrated in the other provinces," said Bradley. "I admire people who decide to make that change and take their chance."

Moving always takes determination and guts and, sometimes, staying put does too.

Irish Independent

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